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Examining Aaron Hicks’ Lineup Spot

According to Lindsey Adler of the Athletic, there seems to be some controversy among Yankee fans regarding Aaron Hicks and his occupation of the three spot in the Yankee lineup. I haven’t seen this personally, but I’m not a major beat writer for the team, nor do I even have a public-facing Twitter account through which I can see said controversy.

I’m with Adler here in that I don’t get why it might be controversial. Additionally, given what I’ve seen in the mentions of the VF314 twitter account, many of you seem to agree with Adler and me. But, again, just because I haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean the controversy isn’t there. Let’s take a look at the idea of Hicks in the three hole.

Before we get any further, let’s start with a little irony. Yesterday, Aaron Hicks did this in a Spring Training game:

Truly typical #3 hitter stuff, right?

If we want to get overly simplistic, there are two ways to construct a lineup: by the book and by The Book. The former is a very old approach and the latter is slightly younger, though even the updated part of that post dates back to 2012. The old school way of thinking says you should put your best overall hitter in the three spot to consistently knock in the leadoff guy, who’s moved around by the second hitter. The newer approach to lineup construction has a lot to say about the three spot, which I’ll summarize:

  • It’s the fifth most important spot in the lineup, suited for the fifth best hitter, unless the fourth best hitter’s value comes mostly from his high rate of homers
  • It comes up often with no runners on and two outs, decreasing its importance

Going by that first point, it may seem that Luke Voit is better suited for the three spot, but he hits for a decent enough average and draws enough walks that, overall, he may be better than Hicks when we factor in power. If we were ranking the Yankees’ best hitters, DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton would be the top three. Voit and Hicks are four and five, probably, especially after down years from Gleyber Torres and Gary Sánchez.

The second point also points to Hicks in a way. Even though he’ll often come to the plate with no one on and two outs, Hicks has a good enough eye that he can start a two out rally with a walk. He also has enough pop to make a rally himself with a homer or put himself in easier position to score for Stanton behind him.

So while it may seem that placing Aaron Hicks in the three spot is an unconventional idea, by at least one measure, it’s actually pretty orthodox. Additionally, he breaks up the two power-righties in Judge and Stanton, which Aaron Boone likes to do for some reason. Just let the big boys bop back-to-back, Boonie! Bah.

This is a lot of words to say I see why this makes sense and if there is a controversy, I don’t quite get why. Truthfully, there isn’t really a need for any controversy with the Yankee lineup. At full strength like it is now, and hopefully will be when the season starts, there is almost no wrong way to arrange the hitters; they’re just that good.

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13 Comments

  1. Kyf

    Let’s say a magic god came down and outlawed Aaron judge/Giancarlo Stanton from hitting back to back. Someone must hit in between them. Who do you decide to put there?

    If someone has to hit inbetween them then you want that someone to be.a guy who gets on base. You don’t want Giancarlo Stanton to get one less at bat in a close game because the number 3 hitter made an out in front of him. That’s where Aaron Hicks and his obp come in. Since the Yankees see judge/stanton back to back as something that can never happen Hicks is the only guy that should hit 3rd because he leaves us with a good chance of Stanton getting his extra at bat anyway. Hicks hitting 3rd is good given the circumstances.

    • Wire Fan

      Then use Voit there… Better hitter than Hicks and he has a better OBP than Hicks over the last 3 years. Plus the better hitter gets more ABs over the course of the year

      Heck Gio Urshela has virtually the same OBP over the last 3 years and a better wRC+

      Yes Hicks walks a lot but I think people are overestimating his OBP. His low average drags it down quite a bit.

      This is all about handedness… It is why the Yankees used Gardy in the 3 spot as well last year (love Gardy but he has no business hitting 3rd)

      • Kyf

        I think I should hev reworded this, the magic god doesn’t want a high K rate righty behind judge for some reason

    • MikeD

      A few days late to this, but yeah, I have no issues with Hicks batting 3rd. The Yankees have a very strong lineup, and they’re fortunate one of their hitters (Hicks) drives up pitch counts, has a high OBP, and is a lefty who will reduce double play opportunities in the middle of a rally. If Judge hits a HR, then Hicks walks, or Judge walks and then Hicks walks, setting up a nice big inning with Stanton and Voit following, all for the better. I don’t believe lineup construction makes a huge difference, but having Hicks near the top makes sense, and certainly sandwiching him between the two big righties is a good strategic placement for when opposing managers want to bring in a righty to face Judge and Stanton. They’ll often have to go through a lefty batter to do that.

  2. Wire Fan

    If Hicks was just a right-handed hitter does anyone think he’d be batting 3rd? This is about the Yankees fixation on splitting up Judge and Stanton…

    I don’t think the decision has anything to do with the book or performance #s. Heck, Brett Gardner hit 3rd in 6 or 7 games last year.

    I’d hit Hicks 6th or lower as you want your best hitters to get the most ABs which would be

    DJL
    Judge
    Stanton
    Voit
    Torres (I’m willing to overlook last year)

    And frankly a decent case can be made for Frazier and Urshela hitting before Hicks

  3. Mungo

    There is exactly zero reasons to find it controversial. There is an element of the fan base who are stuck in the 1970s when it comes to line-up construction. He’s a high OBP guy, so he should be toward the top of the order to maximize appearances. We’ve also heard David Cone mention that it’s easier for a pitcher to lock in by facing same-sided batters, so it also makes sense to break up the righties, so optimally it seems Hicks hitting 3rd or thereabouts.

    This is not an arbitrary decision. We know they Yankees have tons of data, which they also match with actual on-field situations. It’s not up to the Yankees to defend Hicks batting third, it’s up to the opposition crowd to prove they’re wrong.

    I yawn when I see this argument come up on social media.

  4. Dani

    I’d bat Hicks 1st and move DJ and Judge down 1 spot.

  5. “Hicks’ lifetime slash numbers: .235/.332/.402. OPS+ 99” But that includes three poor seasons with the Twins. His splits with the Yankees: .240/.346/.431 which is a 109 OPS+. Honestly I have no problem with him batting third and I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    • CentralScrutinizer

      You can’t just cherry-pick the data that support your position. Even if I grant your argument the slash line you quoted is still pretty Meh for a 3-hole hitter and inferior to Torres’ numbers. You may not have a problem with Hicks batting third but it IS a big deal because an inferior hitter is taking plate appearances away from better ones.

    • Kyf

      Using Hicks’ lifetime stats is silly. What Hicks was before 2017 literally doesn’t matter. Since 2017 he’s been a well above league average hitter outside of a stretch of about 25 games in 2019, and that’s all that matters

  6. CentralScrutinizer

    Hicks doesn’t belong in the #3 spot because he’s simply not that good a hitter! Do you really think Hicks is a better hitter than Gleyber Torres? Yes. Torres had a down year in 2020. But that’s not the yardstick we should be using here and neither is what Hicks did in a meaningless spring training game. Really Matt, you should be embarrassed by trying to use that as supporting evidence. I could just as easily put up a video of Torres HRs and doubles this spring as evidence that he should bat third.

    Let’s look at the numbers:

    Hicks’ lifetime slash numbers: .235/.332/.402. OPS+ 99 Kind of Meh? for a third-place hitter no?
    Torres’ lifetime slash numbers: .271/.340/.493. OPS+ 122 Easily better than Hicks’ numbers.

    You want to emphasize breaking up the run of right-handed hitters at the top of the order? That argument only makes sense if Hicks batting lefty outperforms Torres hitting against right-handed pitchers. But is that true?

    Hicks’ lifetime platoon split against RHP: .229/.333/.391
    Torres lifetime platoon split against RHP: .273/.337/.477

    A big advantage for Torres.

    You argue that the third position is only 5th most important in the lineup but that’s a ridiculous assertion. The simple fact is that lineup order distributes plate appearances. If you bat higher in the order you will come to the plate more times. I want Gleyber Torres coming to the plate more than Aaron Hicks. In fact, I want nearly everyone in the Yankees” lineup coming to bat more than Aaron Hicks. I would actually bat Hicks 9th so he can serve as a second lead off man and help turn the lineup over. The only other lineup spot that makes sense for Hicks is lead off and there’s no way he gets that over DJ LeMahieu.

  7. Brian M

    My only argument against it is that the 3 spot will get more at bats over the course of the season than the 4,5,6 spots. And I would rather have more ABs from Stanton/Voit/Gleyber than Hicks.

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